A funny thing happens when you tell dairy eaters you’re allergic* to milk. They nod their heads politely and return to swizzling their cocktails and then, after about a two-minute pause, they say, in a horror-filled stage whisper:
“That means you can’t eat ice cream!?!”
Yes, it’s a sad truth. And while many of us may never have acquired the taste for the stuff, we might hypothetically have a deep, leftover envy of other kids’ ice cream cones — a longing, if not for frozen cow milk, for something frozen, creamy, and decadent.
Sorbets can be truly exquisite — sometimes even revelatory in their ability to capture the best parts of a fruit’s flavor — but they will never be ice cream.
Oh, quit your whining, you say: Today, even the most conventional grocery store carries at least one non-dairy frozen dessert and the local co-op has a large selection, variously made from rice, coconut, or soy milk.
Lucky us! Maybe.
In keeping with “Vanilla Ice Cream: A Local Taste Test,” the Heavy Table decided to apply the same technique — blind tasting, five panelists, water between servings — to non-dairy ice cream. We had hoped to include all local brands, but there is only one: Izzy’s ($6 a pint). (Talk about an under-served market! I have seen statistics saying that one in five people are allergic to milk to some degree.)
Izzy’s happened to be serving chocolate, so we looked for seven store-bought non-dairy chocolates; the offering is a little uneven, so we had to fudge it — an almond here, a sliver of dark chocolate there.
The panelists were a mix of dairy and non-dairy, the idea being that ice cream should simply taste good, not as an alternative but as a food in its own right. We rated the non-dairy ice creams on four criteria — intensity of flavor, balance of sweetness, mouthfeel, and aftertaste — on a scale from 0 (inedible) to 4 (perfection) for a possible score of 16.
Purely Decadent Made with Coconut
|Intensity of flavor||2.3|
|Balance of sweetness||3.1|
This ice cream had an almost perfect balance of sweetness, and most of us found its initial coconut and bittersweet chocolate flavor pleasing. However, it toppled in the aftertaste category, where many people remarked that it had chemical or burnt nut flavor. In mouthfeel, one judge wrote in that it reminded her of Baskin-Robbins — and not in a good way.
|Intensity of flavor||1.6|
|Balance of sweetness||2.2|
Tofutti was one of, if not the first soy ice creams, so it is probably the most recognizable and easy to find.** Yet, tasting results were solidly middle-of-the-road, with most people agreeing that it was one of the creamier options but that it simply wasn’t very tasty. One judge wrote that it reminded them of “cocoa powder — Hershey’s, not the Godiva you put in brownies for people you like.”
Cocoa Marble Fudge
|Intensity of flavor||0.5|
|Balance of sweetness||1.2|
Yipes! The numbers say it all, but just in case, here are a few of the exclamatory remarks: “I don’t like any of it; it’s just gross!” “It tastes like Play Doh, salty – not even cocoa!” “I don’t want anymore, and I f***ing love ice cream!”
Larry & Luna’s Coconut Bliss
Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge
|Intensity of flavor||2.6|
|Balance of sweetness||2.8|
The tasters were a bit divided on this one. One judge gave it an almost perfect score across the board, noting that it had a rich chocolate flavor and that the hazelnuts were pleasantly crunchy. Others knocked it down for an oddly metallic aftertaste.
It’s Soy Delicious
|Intensity of flavor||0.7|
|Balance of sweetness||2|
On a high note, the fact that it is fruit-juice sweetened might have contributed to this ice cream’s good balance of sweetness. On a low, comments ranged from “watery,” to “the worst!,” to “into the spit bucket!”
Good Karma Organic Rice Divine
Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge
|Intensity of flavor||3|
|Balance of sweetness||1.25|
Okay, so this one ought not to have been included in the lot because it’s technically not chocolate and, in fact, one judge refused to rate it because peanut butter hides just about everything. However, given the way things were going, the rest of us thought it should be included because it was so darn tasty. Most notable: its ultra-smooth and creamy mouthfeel, a rarity among rice-based frozen desserts.
|Intensity of flavor||0.9|
|Balance of sweetness||1.1|
This one caused the loudest outcry when the blinds were removed. Although it has a gorgeous, creamy mouthfeel, the judges found it almost entirely without flavor. Comments ranged from, “Is this chocolate?” to “tastes like day-old coffee,” and “a real nose wrinkler.”
|Intensity of flavor||3.5|
|Balance of sweetness||2.1|
This ice cream rated nearly perfect on flavor, with judges noting its overall fudginess and the nice addition of shaved dark chocolate. It did get dinged for being too sweet, but even the most die-hard dairy eater among us wrote, “This is good chocolate! I would buy this.”
Overall, these results are not wildly successful. If what you want is something sweet and cold to eat, something to keep you from feeling left out at the ice cream social, you’re all set. If, on the other hand, you want something pilgrimage-worthy, something so delicious you feel compelled to eat the whole pint and apologize later, your options are depressingly limited.
We do hold out hope in Izzy’s, where some of us have been known to Hoover a peanut butter soy ice cream cone in record time and great delight — a childhood fantasy finally realized.
*By allergic, we mean swollen eyes, itchy welts, and flu symptoms — not the relatively harmless yet annoying symptoms, such as windiness, associated with lactose intolerance.
**Although not appropriate for this review, mini Tofutti Cuties are universally beloved and this author’s favorite non-dairy treat.